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Off the Top of my Hat: Opening Weekend Edition

The price of a single Verlander start, 3 game series, the misdirected fury towards a waste receptacle and a lot of other things you didn’t ask about.

Seattle Mariners v. Houston Astros Photo by Robert Seale/MLB Photos via Getty Images

In the course of the first four days of this bizarre baseball season:

Even the opening game of the season between the Yankees and Nationals was interrupted by such torrential downpours, doom seemed inevitable for anyone who hadn’t constructed a seaworthy wooden menagerie in advance.

True to a shortened season, the opening game was shortened to just five innings. (But not before Giancarlo Stanton blasted a 262 cubit length home run off of Scherzer.)

It’s official. 2020 doesn’t really give a damn who you are.

Remember that $66 million two year contract extension Verlander signed last year that made him the highest (at the time) paid pitcher in yearly salary? That contract extension didn’t actually start until this season.

While Verlander is hopeful that he’ll be able return in a few weeks after some rest, any elbow injury should be highly concerning, and in the back of your mind, you have to be thinking about whether this could end up being a Tommy John surgery situation.

If it does come to Tommy John surgery, Verlander is gone not only for this season, but next season too. Houston may have just paid Justin Verlander $45.2 million (accounting for prorated 2020 salary) to pitch one 6-inning start for them.

Verlander injury aside, the Astros are 2-1 and it’s been immense fun to watch Astros baseball again. Still, it’s hard for me to get too excited knowing there’s a 16 team playoff tournament on the other side of the regular season.

16 out of 30 teams doesn’t necessarily make the 2020 MLB regular season the joke that 1980’s NHL regular seasons were, where 16 of 21 teams made the playoffs. (Essentially, the only requirement to make the playoffs in the Adams division was to not suck more than the Hartford Whalers.) But it still means more than half the teams are going to make it.

Pieces of metal for everyone!

And every team is going to have to play a best of 3 series. Every team. Even if they went 56-4 in the regular season. So a season could be sunk in the first round by a sub .500 team that manages to take 2 out of 3 games, and if you’ve watched any baseball at all ever, you know that can happen. Remember when the Mariners came to Houston and swept all 4 games against the 2018 Astros as if they were.... the 2012 Astros?

There is the added element that the higher seed is the home team for all the games, but how much of advantage of this when there are no fans in the stands? (Or even with fans. Just ask the 2019 Astros and Nationals)

Also, since the postseason is even more of a crapshoot than normal (and the fact that this season may not even make it to completion at all), at no point should GM James Click consider ever making an investment into the season in the form of a midseason trade. Just play out the hand you are dealt, and accept that the house rake is unacceptably high.

Let’s play a matching game. On the left are baseballs autographed by your favorite Astros stars. Match them to the correct name on the right.

Yours? Well, I don’t see your name on it.

Alex Bregman’s seems straightforward. A large cursive capital A and very obvious large capital B make it a giveaway. Captain Correa is a little bit of a scribblethon, but you can pick out two C’s in there.

But how in the world is that Jose Altuve’s name? This has baffled me for years. I understand that cursive is no longer being taught in our schools (and how they would even do it over Zoom is beyond me), but I can’t be the only one who see this: that’s a cursive capital G at the start of Jose’s signature 7 days a week, 365 day of the year. Well, 366 in 2020 (Because 2020 just has to be weird in every way possible.) In fact, it’s a very well done cursive capital G.

If anything, that ought to be George Springer’s autograph. And George’s. . . that really looks like a capital J at the start of his autograph. Maybe this is what comes of signing autographs with the hand that you don’t throw with.

Or maybe Jose and George just swapped autographs in a long con to troll all the autograph hounds. If TCB ever interviews Altuve, I want the first question to be “Why does your autograph begin with cursive capital G?”

Back to Verlander. So the rotation is now Lance McCullers Jr., Zack Greinke, Josh James, Framber Valdez, and whoever steps into the fifth spot to replace Verlander. Ideally, Forrest Whitley could show he’s gotten enough together to be given a shot in the majors in what is as close to a throwaway year as you’ll ever have for a contending team. Jose Urquidy is going to considered when he is ready to resume pitching activities. Cy Sneed or Cristian Javier might be asked to take on a starting role.

But the most bizarre thing about the rotation is that Framber Valdez of all players is considered a given. Valdez consistently can’t keep traffic off the basepaths and while he frequently strands them, every number shows that his expected results are far worse than his actual results.

But he’s always part of the starting rotation plans.

Remember that great 2018 rotation? Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and oh yeah— FRAMBER VALDEZ.

In 2019, Valdez got starts and once Aaron Sanchez went down, the team gave 5th starts to Valdez and nobody else, despite having no contingency plan for a 4th starter if one of their first four faltered. (And Miley did.)

In 2020, Valdez is part of the rotation again. And not because of the Verlander injury. He was already in it before that ever happened.

For some reason, in the thick of the Houston Astros’ franchise peak years, Framber Valdez has been significantly involved in the starting rotation for three consecutive years. That’s bonkers.

I regret to inform you that I have unearthed some rare footage from Minute Maid Park from a few years ago that reveals the actual mastermind of the trash can system. Fair warning: the video you are about to watch contains shocking and surprising elements.

(For those for whom the video does not embed, click here.)

Okay, so I meant literal shock and surprise.

After you get past your initial disbelief, you’ll come to see that the signs were all there. What really do we know about Orbit? NASA just found some alien one day, and within a day he was granted full access to the Astros facilities? Security gets all paranoid if you get a little too close to the playing field grass or look down the wrong hallway.

But what is really disappointing about this video, is that it sheds light on Orbit’s harassment of female employees behind closed doors. Unacceptable.

Okay, I made a trash can joke.

But seriously, the relative contempt for the Astros compared to the Red Sox is ridiculous to me. Both teams stole signs using electronic means. Both won World Series. Both had league MVPs.

And yet while irate fans have called for Houston’s title to be stripped or for actual physical harm to come to them with beanballs, nobody bats an eyelash at Boston’s transgressions. Why? Because the Astros hit a trash can? The Astros used an audible sound that we can all hear in retrospect to relay the pitch directly to the batter, and Boston more cladestinely signaled a runner on second, who then relayed the pitch to the batter.

There is so much focus on the fact that the Astros were hitting trash cans. It completely misses the point that hitting a trash can with a bat is not illegal. It is no more illegal than giving signs by pulling on your left ear, tapping your right cleat with the fat of the bat, or farting loudly.

Stealing signs using electronic means was illegal, not the trash can hitting. And Boston was equally culpable of that rule infraction.

So if you are more upset with the Astros, who used a trash can, than you are with the Red Sox, who signaled the batter more indirectly, then you are not upset with the cheating. You are upset with how much more efficient Houston was in applying their ill-gotten information.

Mookie Betts got paid. In a massive way. As if he were one of the top 3 players in the game, and at least as far as I’m concerned, he is.

Mookie’s contract signing stimulated a lot of discussion. Does this make George Springer the biggest free agent fish in the coming offseason? What kind of numbers is George looking at now, and does Houston even have a chance to retain him? Is a contract that large and that long to any player, even Mookie, ever a good idea?

They don’t always turn out terrible. Alex Rodriguez’ notorious 10 year $252 million contract back in December of 2000 actually seems like a bargain considering the amount of WAR he generated over the next 10 years. Derek Jeter made good on the 10 year $189 million investment the Yankees put into him.

Fans like to weight in on what they would do, as if they were financial managerial geniuses. But in the end, let’s step back and realize that we are also the same fans who voluntarily pay $23 for some nachos and a beer when we go to games, so maybe we’re not the wisest counsel on how how to judiciously spend money.

I guess you do get the batting helmet for your Scottish terrier, so there’s that.

Blake Taylor has looked good so far. I know Astros fans loved Jake from Rake Farm, but Blake from K Farm might be Luhnow’s final gift to the franchise.

People love to say cliches like “You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure that out” or “It’s not brain surgery.” But what if you were a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon? It occurred to me that with NASA and the largest medical center in the world, Houston is the city where someone would be most likely be one of those professions.

So the next time, someone tries to tell you Houston fans are idiots, remind them that this is literally a city of rocket scientists and brain surgeons.

New rule changes are here to improve the pace of play. Among them is the rule that every pitcher must pitch to at least 3 batters or until the end of the half inning (with certain exceptions), and the disdained new rule of starting extra innings with a runner on second base. (Evan Grant has proposed we call that runner the “Manfred’s Man”, and I’m down for that.)

What is the obsession with wanting to speed up pace of play? It’s the national pastime. You do exactly what it sounds like: You pass time.

This is a sport that is so sedentary, it has a designated time where it instructs everybody in the building that they need to stand up and move their fat ass, or at the very least stretch if you’re not going to move around. (But they play music to try to get you to.)

There is a recess in the middle of the game that you used to play at recess.

The 7th inning stretch is like that boring meeting I have every Wednesday afternoon at work, where 40 minutes in, my Apple Watch buzzes to go, “What’s going on, Hatter? You haven’t moved in forever. Stand the f@$% up.”

Baseball has been around for over 150 years. Are people just now realizing that it’s kind of a slow game? Yes, It’s slow! And somehow, people still like it! Maybe baseball fans like slow.

One of the most popular twitter accounts for baseball highlights is Rob Friedman, aka @pitchingninja, and some of his “highlights” are just of players standing and staring.

And people love it, like they’re watching “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!” It’s a dude just standing and staring; don’t trip over yourselves. If people get this excited over clips like this, who cares about pace?

Josh Allen. Jack Eichel. . . Vlad Guerrero Jr.

The Toronto Blue Jays are playing in Buffalo, New York for the 2020 MLB season, and I am officially having a crisis of fandom. I love the Astros, but the diehard Bills and Sabres fan in me will always cheer for the futility that is Buffalo sports.

I may just punch myself in the face, curse out managing editor Bilbos, and head on over to “Buffalo” Bichette and Blue Bird Banter.

But probably not. Probably I’ll just write more catcher articles here.